At 24, Marta Moya is a mother, a bubbly board-game aficionado, an outdoor enthusiast and a seasoned food-service worker.
As of Tuesday evening, she’ll be a GED certificate recipient, on track to work in the medical field, after taking classes through Santa Fe Community College’s Academic Career Education program.
“I guess I have to thank the pandemic for that,” she said in an interview with a laugh. “I had the time to go in and study.”
Academic Career Education program manager Kristen Krell said attendance at high school equivalency programs has been significantly down since the coronavirus pandemic swept the state. But Moya is one of more than 60 students who have successfully attained GED diplomas in 2020 and 2021 who will be celebrating during a virtual, livestream graduation event Tuesday.
Moya lives in Santa Fe with her husband Victor and their talkative 4-year-old daughter, Victoria. She said the colorful sunsets and plentiful camping opportunities help make life in New Mexico worth it, but sometimes she still wonders why she left the bustling Bronx borough of New York City to live with her sister in Santa Fe near the end of her high school education.
Born in New York, Moya spent much of her elementary and middle school years shuffling between the Bronx and the city of Ahuachapán in El Salvador, where her parents are from.
In El Salvador as a youth, she reveled in the country’s rich coastlines.
“It’s hot, but it’s humid. There’s a lot of beach,” she said. “That was one of my favorite parts.”
The youngest of six children, Moya recalls sneaking out of the house regularly to play with kids her own age, much to the disappointment of her mother, who preferred to keep a close eye on the young girl for fear of local crime and impending earthquakes, which are not uncommon in a country positioned along the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”
Gradually, her family members emigrated to the U.S. Her dad worked at a car wash, and her mom nannied children, but the two lived in El Salvador at different times. Today, her mother is in the Bronx, her father in Ahuachapán.
Moya bounced between New York and El Salvador until landing back in the Bronx for middle school, where adjusting to an English presented academic and social barriers. She said teachers leading bilingual classrooms often only spoke Spanish, making it difficult to learn English.
Kids bullied her.
“It was tough, especially being Hispanic,” she said. “Language was one major problem. I did not speak it at all.”
By the time Moya reached her final years of high school, she was fluent in English and surrounded by a warm community of Spanish-speaking friends. Her family’s own brushes with health issues and the medical system lit the spark for her ambition to enter the medical field.
But the prospects of finishing high school while maintaining a job felt dim. Finances were slim at the Bronx basement apartment where Moya, her mother and siblings lived.
“It was good the first two years,” she said. “But then, financially, it started to get hard. So I just ended up working.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018 there were 2.1 million 16- to 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school or holding a diploma or equivalent credential, making for a 5.3 percent dropout rate nationwide, although rates vary among different racial and ethnic groups. A 2015 study from the Urban Institute estimated that approximately 30 percent of high school dropouts between ages 16 and 18 have jobs, like Moya did.
When Moya arrived in Santa Fe, she lived with her sister and niece and enrolled at Santa Fe High School. It wasn’t long, Moya said, before her independent streak attributed to friction at home. She needed to work to help out at home, but her sister wanted her to go to school. Most nights, Moya was up late working at Allsup’s. Most days, she was busing tables at a restaurant.
“I got caught up between work and school,” she said.
She dropped out, and at 18, moved out on her own. Moya describes the following years as marked by various studies — a Certified Nursing Assistant certificate which led her to work as a private caretaker and to make a few attempts at earning her GED certificate.
It wasn’t until the pandemic, when Moya was unable to work in food service, that she found herself able to commit to getting her GED diploma through Santa Fe Community College.
“It sure was a different perspective, going online and everything,” she said. “I hadn’t been using a computer for so long. And just not seeing people at all, I think it affects us just to be home 24/7 and then have to take school. It messes with your head a little bit. It definitely was fun to spend time with my daughter and not leave her for so long.”
Now, she’s researching programs with hopes of becoming an ophthalmic medical technician.
Moya said the reality of having her GED certificate is still setting in. She didn’t tell anyone about her accomplishment until she received a link to her certificate. She said she was thankful for her teacher, Edward Ashmead, her tutor Tim Kirkpatrick, and her husband.
“He’s been a great support through all of this,” she said of Victor Moya.
“It’s nice to have programs here in Santa Fe that will help you out,” she said. “If anyone is thinking about taking their GED, I say go for it. I know it sounds stressful, it sounds hard. But at the end of the day, you have all the support you need in that program. You have people that will back you up and get you to work on it.”
Today, Moya is considering educational options for her own daughter. The toddler, who speaks Spanish, English and now sign language, has a passion for painting but is a little anxious about one day heading to school without Mom and Dad.
“We have a school right across the street [Ramirez Thomas Elementary School] from us, and we tell her, ‘You know, this might be the school you end up going to,’ ” Moya said.